HITTING THE STREET WITH THE MEN BEHIND BROOKLYN’S OUT IN THE STREETS FESTIVAL
Left: Gabo Rodriguez / Right: Scot Bowman
LADYGUNN speaks with Scot Bowman and Gabo Rodriguez, two of three partners who organize Brooklyn’s Out In The Streets, about the event’s inception, how it has evolved through the years, and the challenges of producing a community-based festival in the ever-gentrifying streets of Brooklyn. Check out this year’s festival at The Well on Saturday, July 15th and Sunday, July 16!
Who are the founders of Out In The Streets?
Scot Bowman + David Teller. Gabo Rodriguez joined us as a partner in 2013.
Tell me a little about the inception of the festival and how the three of you came together.
Scot: Well, it started in 2009 as part of Make Music New York. Where anybody can get a permit for one day in June, and do live concerts out on the streets, like out on sidewalks. So I just did this free show with a little PA and had seven bands. And I called it “Out in the Streets,” cause it was literally out in the streets. And it was just like … I don’t know. It was for fun. Like, no money involved whatsoever.
Where was the first festival held?
Scot: It was in front of [now closed restaurant] Northeast Kingdom [Wyckoff + Troutman], right on the corner.
Gabo: You were working there at the time, right?
Scot: Yes, I was working there. So, they wanted me to do it, and I ran with it and booked a bunch of friend’s bands. Local. It was super fun. Really good turnout. Then after that I got approached by my other partner, David Teller, about wanting to do some sort of festival together. And I said, “Well, what if we did this Out in the Streets idea? And tried to make it like more of a real event?” And so, the next summer we did it in the alleyway of Brooklyn Fire Proof. And we did that for two years in a row. The second year there we expanded to two days. And then…
Gabo: Then I came aboard.
Scot: We met Gabo, who was an impressive, up-and-coming promoter, and had a lot of similar interests as us. And so we thought having a third partner would help us reach a bigger audience. And, a side note. I went to another friend’s little small festival at this place called the Onderdonk House one summer, and I was like, “Oh my God, wouldn’t that be amazing if we could do it here someday?” It was kind of a dream idea. But we had no idea how we would build everything ourselves.
So how did you build the infrastructure? Did you fundraise?
Scot: Well, the guy who I had run the sound from the very beginning, when it was on the street corner, a few years later when we were about ready to ramp it up a little higher, he got a job working for a big sound company in Long Island City and had access to employee discounts on equipment. And kind of put a whole package together for us for next to nothing. Jeremy Russell. He lives in Portland, Oregon now so no longer works with us but was a big part of the original inception. Built the stage, lights, full on amazing sound equipment. I mean, it was probably worth thousands and thousands of dollars. And we probably paid, like, $700 dollars.
Gabo: We were shocked and Jeremy was just top-notch.
Can you tell me a little about your previous venue, Onderdonk House?
Scot: We had a really wonderful relationship with the people who run Onderdonk House. It’s the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society. They’re wonderful people. They loved what we were doing. They think we brought a young perspective to a historical site, and that was very exciting to them…exposing the property, the house, which was built in the 1700’s, to a wider, younger crowd. So, that was another really exciting part of it for us for the past few years. It was a really unique setting, especially around Bushwick. It has two acres of land behind the house. It has a park feeling, but it’s all enclosed private property. When you’re there, it just feels like you’re not in the city, kind of. You can imagine that you’re out in the country somewhere. And then you can turn and look and see a warehouse nearby and kind of realize, “Oh, okay. I am still in the middle of Bushwick, but … ” It just feels like an oasis in the middle of industrial wasteland.
You seem to love Onderdonk House so much, why the change of venue this year to The Well?
Scot: After four amazing years at the historic Onderdonk House, we felt it was time to elevate the overall production of the concert experience. At the Onderdonk House we had a gorgeous setting for the festival, but we literally had to turn it into a venue ourselves. We built the stage from ground up every year, rented a giant truckload of sound and lighting equipment, not to mention the on-site execution of the bar, food court, market vendors, art, permits, licenses and on and on. It was back-breaking work that we had one day to execute prior to the festival. So when we thought about where we could possibly move the event, it was important to us that we find another unique, historical location. The Well was the perfect and most logical next step for us. It is a fully functioning venue with two stages and a massive bar. The space is also housed in the former Hittleman Brewery, a historic building erected in 1867 and a surviving gem on Brooklyn’s once famed Brewer’s Row.
Other than increase in numbers each year, do you have any big goals that you’re striving for?
Gabo: I mean, the curation is one thing… the curation of the festival every year becomes more and more ambitious. We feature acts that we think are at the pinnacle of breaking big or that people are super excited about.
Scot: Every year we get a little better about that. Getting bands that have more exposure. And that’s definitely a goal. To align our passion for music and the sounds we like with a wider audience. It’s always a goal to step it up a notch from the year before.
How are you curating bands? Do you make a list of bands you’d love to have? Or do you try to source bands that originated in Brooklyn?
Gabo: We always like to have some sort of reference to the Brooklyn DIY upbringings of bands. That’s definitely something we always try to … because we come from that whole kind of movement of … 2008-2009, you know.
That’s really great. I’ve been in Bushwick since 2006, myself. It’s been rough to see the neighborhood change in many ways, even if certain elements have been made more convenient. How has gentrification changed your festival from the beginning to now? Has it worked in your favor or worked against you?
Scot: It’s an interesting thing, because some of the businesses that used to be our strongest supporters in the beginning have closed in recent years. Like, Tandem and Northeast Kingdom. So that’s been hard to swallow. But at the same time, a lot of our friends that we’ve met through those places have opened their own places.
Gabo: For me, the biggest reality is just the fact that that’s no longer the community that lives here. It’s no longer those people who are coming to move here. It’s no longer a community, really. It’s a lot of kids… people who are coming to, just, you know, enjoy and live and just, “I have my nine to five, and then I go out and get drunk, and I do that.”
What are your biggest challenges each year producing the festival?
Gabo: Resources, I feel. You know? Not only monetary, but also people. The festival gets bigger and bigger every year, so we have to involve a lot more people.
Scot: We have a lot of volunteers. And we utilize a lot of friends. Their cars, their favors.
Gabo: People who are involved in the community, people who come out to shows, people we’ve met through working in bars, etc.
Scot: I’d say probably the biggest challenge every year is that we are just three normal guys with normal jobs. So balancing organizing with our day jobs, if you will.
What sets you apart from other Brooklyn festivals? Or even festivals in the wider NYC area?
Scot: We are a far more intimate, you know, small scale festival. Still, it definitely has our individual personalities embedded into every piece of it.
Gabo: Yeah. I mean, when you see, in general, the larger corporate festivals that happen, there’s a lot more corporate influence involved. Especially when it comes to their sponsors. Sponsors are key, obviously. And for us as well, definitely, we love our sponsors. They’re great people. But …
Scot: …But they’ve had no say in our curation.
Gabo: The festival still might seem modest compared to others, but at the same time, everybody who is there is part of that crew. Everybody talks to each other and people that like us, they push us hard. You know, they evangelize … they market us. They help us put the word out very actively, which is very, very cool. Yeah. I think that one of the things that I like the most about it is … I mean, it’s two things. 1) It’s the community aspect of it. The fact that we are aggressive about finding that connection with the community, whether it be the older, more established community here, or the newer people who are moving into the neighborhood. Finding that connection is very important to us. And helping create a dialogue between those two is something that’s important to me. And I feel that we’ve been able to do it somewhat, you know, every year a little bit more and more through the festival. 2) The thing I’m really very proud of is, and I’m pretty sure Scot is too, is the fact that we pride ourselves in our strong, selective curation. We pride ourselves in being directly involved.
You’re actually reaching out to bands.
Gabo: Right. There are couple of different elements that we look for. Obviously, the first one is that we like them.
Scot: And we all three have to agree on it.
Is that tough? Does that narrow your range or the genres represented in the festival if you all have to like and agree upon the bands specifically?
Scot: I think every year it takes on a slightly different direction.
Gabo: We’ve actually done a lot of different things. We’ve gone electronic heavy, to a lot more punk and rock heavy.
Scot: Yeah, within the three of us, we all have our niches that we really like. And we’re always really good about balancing the festival by including all of those.
Name a few bands you are super excited to feature this year?
Scot: A Place To Bury Strangers are dubbed the loudest band in New York. They are Brooklyn legends, having toured the world over. They also founded the seminal DIY space Death By Audio. They close out the festival, headlining Sunday night. You should really DVR the Game of Thrones premiere because this is not to be missed! Hometown heroes Caveman return to Brooklyn after playing Coachella earlier this year. Their recent album Otero War catapulted the band into a whole new level of popularity. They headline Saturday night–Grim Streaker–are a new band out of Brooklyn and they are fire! They are probably the hottest new band working the underground Brooklyn scene right now. They have that whiplash brand of scuzzy, abrasive punk rock. They are amazing! What Cheer? Brigade are an incredible 18 piece brass marching band from Providence, Rhode Island. They’ve performed with Dan Deacon at Lollapalooza, Blondie brought them out at Madison Square Garden for a big band rendition of “The Tide Is High”. These guys are just a truly special, high-energy experience. They’ve been known to perform in and around the crowd, which gets everyone going crazy dancing! Buscabulla are a Puerto Rican electronic-tropicalia duo. They make the sexiest music out there right now! Overall, we really wanted to diversify the lineup this year and the result is the most eclectic festival we’ve ever put together.
Do you have any 2017 sponsors who you’d like to give a shout-out?
Scot: Archie’s is a pizza bar and indie record label in Bushwick. They have helped us out tremendously and the lineup features two really great bands from the label – Pink Mexico and Monograms. It’s important to us to try our hardest not to have to go the corporate sponsor route. We love working with local businesses and the community thriving around us. We have also gotten a lot of local support from Newtown Radio, Wyckoff Starr, Paper Garden Records and Tell All Your Friends.
STORY + PHOTOS/MAEGHAN DONOHUE